MARSHALL — Marshall Against Violence president Demetria McFarland, who has launched a petition to remove the Confederate statue on the historical 1901 courthouse grounds, has taken her campaign before the Harrison County Commissioners Court.
“I am here peacefully asking for the Confederate statue to be removed from the courthouse grounds,” McFarland told the court at its meeting Wednesday.
In opening the meeting, County Judge Chad Sims offered prayer over race relations and racial tensions.
“We ask you, Lord, to heal our land. We need your direction,” Sims prayed.
McFarland spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, which meant no one on the court could respond.
She said she’s asking for the statue to be removed because it’s a painful reminder, to particularly African Americans, of America’s dark history of racism and slavery.
“This nation is experiencing a movement after the senseless murder of George Floyd due to systemic racism,” McFarland said.
Floyd, 46, was a black man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, despite Floyd’s outcry for relief.
The death, caught on video, prompted outrage across the country, and now communities across the nation are starting to call for the removal of Confederacy symbols.
“This is something I saw personally as I went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, this weekend to see where Mr. Floyd took his last breath,” McFarland told the court. “From the nation’s capital, throughout the world, local officials and protesters are removing symbols of racism, hate and prejudice by taking down the symbols of the Confederacy.
“I’m curious, and I do wonder if those in authority, here at this courthouse, also believe in what the Confederacy represents due to the camera that has been placed on the side of this building, a public building, in order to keep a watchful eye upon their idol, the Confederate statue,” she said.
Quoting Daniel Barber of Lakewood, Colorado, McFarland argued that the Confederate States of America stood for two basic principles, as laid out in its constitution of 1861.
“First, it stood for a dis-union of the United States. Second, it stood for an official establishment of slavery based on race,” McFarland said. “This is a matter of historical fact. Simply stated, the Confederacy was a treasonous and racist institution.
“Therefore, any statue or monument honoring the Confederacy endorses treason and racism. And the people who defend those monuments should think carefully about which flag they want to support — the stars and bars or the stars and stripes. You couldn’t have it both ways then, and still can’t.”
McFarland said, as an African American woman, she should not be reminded of the struggles her ancestors faced while visiting downtown. She said the statue doesn’t represent all communities and races that make up the city of Marshall.
“Again, the Confederacy represents only one race — the white race — one of which they felt was supreme,” she said.
McFarland said the statue is a reminder of torture and the dehumanization that her ancestors were subject to as well as what unfolded with the death of Floyd.
“Lynching, that’s exactly what it was,” she said of Floyd’s death. “It went from placing a noose around the necks of black men and women to placing a knee on their necks.”
McFarland ended her presentation by sharing photos of civil rights monuments and sites she has documented from her travels around the country.
One was of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, which was established in Topeka, Kansas, to commemorate the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end segregation in public schools.
Another was a picture of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also called the National Lynching Memorial, which was established to remember the nation’s lynching victims.
She also showed a photo of the Little Rock Nine Monument that’s showcased on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol to honor the courage of the nine black students who enrolled at Little Rock Central High School to integrate the city’s public schools in 1957.
“These images represent the perseverance my ancestors endured and what they fought for and believed — not for one race, but all races,” McFarland said.
She implored the court to consider relocating the statue to possibly a museum or historical cemetery to be honored by those who wish to do so.
“Personally, those that are here to oppose my request, as far as I’m concerned, you can move that Confederate statue to your backyard,” McFarland said, turning to address any possible opponents in attendance.
“That way, you can embrace it and what it stands for in the comfort of your own home,” she said.
McFarland reiterated her request to the court.
“This nation is in the process of removing the Confederate statue; it’s removing the symbols of Confederacy, of hate, racism, racial inequality,” McFarland said. “Let’s move forward.”
Acknowledging arguments from opponents who see Confederate monuments as a symbol of heritage and history, McFarland said it will always be a reminder of slavery and the legacy of white supremacy.
“It doesn’t matter how one tries to promote Confederacy. It will forever represent hate, racism and prejudice,” she said.